The Importance of Unlearning Some Things in Marriage

Unlearning some things - Graphic stock 0o1a3514-1066 copyMost of us have been told that if we’re going to have a good marriage we’ll need to learn some important things along the way. That’s all a part of married life. Some will be good; and some will be bad. But what about “unlearning” some things? Can that be beneficial? YES… without a doubt! It can actually be one of the best things we can do at times for our marriage. That’s especially true in how we communicate with each other.

Through the years Steve and I have had to do A LOT of unlearning. (And it’s still an ongoing process.) Unknowingly, we both had developed a lot of hurtful ways of trying to resolve conflict. Some of this we dragged into the marriage from our differing backgrounds, etc. And some appeared to “develop” right then and there. (Actually, they didn’t. We just didn’t know we had those hurtful mannerisms buried deep inside of us. And then when we “bumped” into each other in conflicting circumstances… SURPRISE! Those toxic ways within us reared their ugly heads.) So, we’ve had to do some learning, as well as unlearning some important things.

As it pertains to conflict resolution, relationship expert, Julie Baumgardner points out:

“The way in which couples attempt to resolve conflict often is based on what they’ve learned growing up. Techniques, such as the silent treatment or running away, are ineffective and tend to create more conflict. Couples who recognize that they’ve learned poor techniques can become skillful by learning new, more effective methods, which will allow them to resolve the conflict at hand and move on.” (From her article “Irreconcilable Differences”)

The Goal of Unlearning and Then Learning Anew

That’s the goal. We actually see, and then acknowledge and throw out that, which we should change. And then we make the effort to learn and replace those approaches with healthier and more loving ones. Unfortunately, none of that comes easily! But it’s worth the effort if it helps you to approach your marriage, as Christ would have you. Let me give you an example.

My mom told me of a horrible fight she and my dad had when they were first married. They were screaming back and forth at each other; and she was absolutely furious! She decided to step up her angry tirade by throwing several glass plates against the wall. She saw this being acted out in a movie and in turn, acted out her anger in the same way. They shattered all over the kitchen. There’s no doubt that it added to the drama!

The only thing is, she then realized that in the movies, they had a crew that cleaned up the mess. She didn’t; she knew she would have to clean it all up. Plus, she realized that they didn’t have the money to replace those dishes. And on top of all of that, these actions only made them both madder! So how did that work for her and for them? It didn’t! Later she erased that drama “choice” of a response out of her head. She never did that again! It was a lesson well (and expensively) learned, which became a response unlearned afterward.

Unlearning “Natural” Inclinations

Personally, I’ve had to unlearn the habit of yelling when I’m angry. This hasn’t been easy. And I can still start to go there when my guard is down. I grew up in a family of screamers. So it came natural for me to yell. Unfortunately, it came natural to Steve too. So we just did what came natural to us. And it led to no good.

Eventually, the Lord revealed to us that what appeared to be a “natural” way to deal with conflict was actually killing our relationship. The Bible says, “There is a way that seems right to a man. But in the end it leads to death.(Proverbs 14:12) And for us, it was almost the death of our marriage.

For most individuals, when we don’t feel understood, we can attack each other as enemies. That’s when it’s important to “unlearn” our caustic behaviors. But then we must reach out to “learn” new ways of communicating. And it isn’t a “once for all” type of education. Even though we know how to resolve conflict in healthier ways, we can still fall into our old traps of past behavior.

Steve and I have to catch ourselves at different times to tone down the way we “speak” to each other. We’ve made the decision that yelling is not a communication option for us. And usually we hold strong to that commitment.

Unlearning Previous Knowledge

“Paul, the Apostle, was a typical example of learning, unlearning and relearning. He had advanced beyond his counterparts in Judaism. He had learned from one of the best teachers of the law then. And he had so much confidence in his knowledge, which led him to murder innocent people until he opened his mind to a better knowledge. He unlearned his previous knowledge and learned Christianity from the scratch.

“Today, we barely talk about the early Christians without mentioning his name because of the powerful impact he made after he relearned. Even after accepting Christ, he never stopped seeking to learn more (Galatians 1:14, Philippians 3:4-14). He used words like “I want to know…”, “I keep pressing…(Tolulope Okiemute, from her article, “Learning and Unlearning”)

In applying this to your marriage, please note:

“Marriage is an institution of constant learning, unlearning, and relearning a lot of things… Your creative part possesses you during a quarrel and you begin to cook up ideas in your head that will put you into trouble. … It’s natural to say hurtful things when we are angry but I’ve learned not to say too much or watch what I say when I’m angry. Even if your anger is justified, you can become the wrong person if you say things you’re not supposed to say.

“…So, these days when I’m hurt and I’m tempted to spew hurtful words, I take a chill pill and tell myself that the quarrel wouldn’t matter in a few hours, but my words will.” (Olubunmi Mable, from her article, The Most Painful But Important Lesson I’ve Learnt in Marriage)

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.(Romans 14:19) Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)

Unlearn Those Worldly Messages

Not only do we need to unlearn some of the habits we picked up earlier in life, we need to shake off the “world’s” teaching in matters of love.

“Especially when it comes to the pursuit of happiness in our marriage. We need to unlearn the worldly messages that lie to us about what will make us happy, better, true.” (Heather Riggleman)

That type of love is not permanent. God’s type of love is!

“Worldly” love will tell us to “follow our hearts.” God’s word tells us that our hearts are “deceitfully wicked.” So where could that type of “love” take us? Love, as the world defines it, centers on our feelings. But “love isn’t just what you feel, it’s what you do consistently over time.” (Matthew Jacobson) In God’s Word we’re told:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, does not boast, and is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.(1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Keep in Mind:

“When we follow our feelings into marriage, we can also follow our feelings right out of marriage. As quickly as you fall in love, you can fall out of love. Because feelings come and go, those who build the foundation of their marriage on how they feel will certainly find their marriage crumbling. Feelings are fickle; but faith is not. It’s easy to follow our hearts, but it takes courage to lead our hearts.” (Debra Fileta)

Leading your heart is difficult—no doubt! When our spouse says what he or she shouldn’t we want to lead with our feelings. But we’re called to “Be imitators of God as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.(Ephesians 5:1) So when we’re tempted, it can be good to pray:

Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds along with those who are evildoers; do not let me eat their delicacies.(Psalm 141:3-4)

Unlearning and Then Learning Can Be a Humbling Experience

It takes a real time of reckoning and humbling to get to the point of admitting we need to unlearn some things. Afterward we must then learn how to communicate in healthy ways. It’s a matter of taking out the old and replacing it with the new. The Bible says, “Pride only breeds quarrels. But wisdom is found in those who take advice.(Proverbs 13:10) Please make it a point to empty yourself of pride, and consider this advice if it applies to your marital life.

It would be a crying shame to allow unnecessary pain to stay within your relationship. Additionally, your children can become bruised emotionally as they watch you fight with each other in unhealthy ways. We plead with you to make it your mission to work together to make your marriage a reflection of the heart of Christ.

God brings others into our lives to witness the miracle of love that God can bring. He does this through ordinary human beings and does this for all who call upon Him. May the Lord bless you in this effort!

Cindy and Steve Wright


To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:

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